COW TV (2004 – Part 1)

Last year I somehow entirely missed the fact it had been over a decade since I went to film & TV school at Avalon… which I did in the later half of 2003. So it’s with a little forethought that I think slightly in advance at what I did with my 2004.

The Allied Press building, Channel 9 (now Freeview 39) is located on the top (3rd) floor on the right side of this photo. Image from TrekEarth.

The Allied Press building, Channel 9 (now Dunedin TV Freeview 39) is located on the top (3rd) floor on the right side of this photo. Image from TrekEarth.

In December of 2003 I arrived back in my home town of Dunedin, just shortly before Christmas. Having just finished my course I decided to check in with the local TV station in town, Channel 9, to see if I could put my hand up for work. I met with the then station manager, Keith Collins, and we discussed the simple point of working at the station usually started with those who worked their way up through from volunteering for the student TV show. That show was COW TV.

The logo for CowTV

The logo for CowTV

I’d watched quite a bit of COW in 1999 and 2000, it’s first couple of years, and now and then at random through 2001-2003. The show was created by Clarke Gayford, who’d gone on to reasonable success in New Zealand as a presenter and producer among other work, as a university focused entertainment show. While he’d created the idea while at study in Christchurch, he’d instead managed to get it up and running in Dunedin focused for the students of Otago University.

The first season in 1999 was hosted by a few different people, but the main duo for the bulk of the first year was made of Andrew Mulligan (still on TV, as main co-host Sky/Prime’s Crowd Goes Wild) and Marcus Sonntag (who last I heard is working in upper level banking for ANZ Bank). They probably remain the best known of the hosts as far as the history of the show is concerned, although some other hosts in later years would be more well known for other work in other shows.

CowTV Presenters from 1999, Marcus Sontagg (L) and Andrew Mulligan (R).

CowTV Presenters from 1999, Marcus Sontagg (L) and Andrew Mulligan (R).

The show itself, which started as one recorded, usually in the field, half hour per week for around 40 weeks of the year, was very funny… with skits and segments, the most infamous being the Walk of Shame. I’ll come back to this aspect much later to further discuss the content. However the title itself reflected this screening slot, originally meaning “Campus Otago Weekly TeleVision.” In the 2000 season some sort of outside research told Channel 9’s owners they should move the show from a night slot to a live studio based AM show to boost viewers – which was later found to be a bad move and the show later returned to nights. As the years went on the show increased in duration and episodes per year, and when I’d started watching it again more regularly by early 2003 (following some dramatic changes to the station in 2002) the show was around 1 hour long per episode and on, absurdly, 5 nights a week at 10pm.

Anyway, I was told in the meeting with Keith that he’d take my details and pass them on in the new year to the shows producer, who hadn’t yet been organized, and I’d probably hear from him in early Feb once the show was coming together.

I got a call from the show’s producer in Feb as Keith had said I would. His name was Cam Williams and he’d been working on the show on and off for a few years while also working on other “actual productions” around the country. Being COW’s producer was seemingly a last minute thing for him, as I believe he’d been planning on being elsewhere but when some expected work seemed to be pushed back or cancelled he ended up taking the gig of COW TV Producer for the meantime. Channel 9 it seemed had also struggled to see someone take the position until then and so it seemed of benefit to both parties.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Cam was the best first producer you could hope for. I would find out later that he knew what he wanted, was assertive when it was needed, yet entirely laid back otherwise. He taught you stuff which was important, and while he may not of specifically cared about the show on the surface all the time, he still always appreciated what it allowed for people in learning and always made sure it was fun for the volunteers. I guess especially because he appreciated the people giving up their own time to make his job easier.

On top of it all he did simply his job as the producer, including coming in the day after each show and cutting out highlights from each episode before for highlight shows and reels, pleasing the sponsors with material, and making sure as best he could there was content for every night. This seems like something you don’t need to state, producer does his job… how amazing. However I would learn the following year what the complete antithesis of this would be. but that’s a story for another time.

My brief meeting with Cam was straight forward, he asked what I had studied, what I was interested in as far as the content, and then told me he’d let me know when to come in – but said that it would likely be the first week of the University’s orientation week around the middle of the month. I’d known some of the guys who’d worked on the 2003 season through my Web Design/Animation course the start of 2003 (they were doing TV training in the same building), and I expected a few people to be there and I was hoping I could do something good with my more recently earned skills.

When I got a call to come in during the first week of Orientation I was excited, and I arrived shortly before the time I was supposed to. I was however disheartened when I walked into the back office space, which I would later find out was designated “the COW hole,” was crowded with no less than two dozen people. The meeting divvied up the planned work over the couple of weeks during the University orientation… people being sent to cover concerts, toga parades, doing the ‘find a presenter’ drive, shooting opening credits and stings, creating skits, crews raiding flats in the evening, being sent out to do the years first Walk Of Shame coverage… the list seemingly went on and on.

However once everything was divvied up I, along with a few others, were left with nothing because our unspecific skills didn’t seem as well suited to field shoots it seemed or didn’t know the existing guys well enough to join in. I was instead told to turn up around 6.30-7pm on the next Monday for the first show of the year.

I was disheartened over what had happened and I left the Channel 9 building feeling quite rejected, perhaps even more so because it was volunteer work and yet I didn’t seem like I’d been used for even that most simplest of jobs. But the more I thought I simply just realized there was so many people helping out and there just wasn’t enough work to do. Instead I just decided that I’d try to do my best for that first show at the station itself… maybe that’s where my skills would be best put to use, in the live studio shoot. And so indeed in making this decision to do the best job I could for the live studio part I had, unknowingly, set forward the best plan I could have ever decided.

To be continued in another post….

2 thoughts on “COW TV (2004 – Part 1)

  1. Pingback: COW TV (2004 – Part 2) | Strange Metallic Baby

  2. Pingback: COW TV Retrospective | Strange Metallic Baby

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